Babies fed with breast milk containing a particular sugar are more likely to stay protected against severe bacterial infections.
Breast milk; a liquid secreted from a mother’s body immediately after childbirth, acts as a natural barrier against infections in babies. New-born babies are highly susceptible to infections during the first weeks to six months of their life.
This is due to their immature immune system. As babies grow, their immune cells also develop and by the time they reach six months of age, the cells become matured enough to attack foreign agents entering inside the body.
So, that’s why doctors advise women to breastfeed their babies till six months of age. Babies who are breastfed are more likely to stay healthy and safe from infections than babies who are not breastfed.
Researchers from the Imperial college of London have found that a naturally occurring compound in breast milk wards off infections due to a deadly bacterium called as Group B Streptococcus (GBS).
GBS is commonly found in pregnant women, which if gets picked up by the baby may lead to infections such as pneumonia, meningitis and blood poisoning.
Scientists did not know the exact reason about why some children picked up the bacteria from their mother while others did not. So, to identify it they conducted a study among pregnant women and their babies.
They conducted genetic tests to know the presence of a gene called Lewis gene which is associated with the blood group of an individual. The same gene determines the type of sugar in the breast milk too. Pregnant women were also examined for the presence of GBS.
They found that women who carry the gene were less likely to carry GBS and their babies also did not pick the bacteria. But, babies who picked up the GBS bacteria did not develop any infection if they were fed with breast milk containing a particular sugar called lacto-n-difucohexose I.
Effect of lacto-n-difucohexose I on Group B Streptococcus
Researchers confirmed that lacto-n-difucohexose I had a lethal effect on GBS.
- Half of the women contain lacto-n-difucohexose I sugar in their breast milk
- Breastfeeding favors the growth of friendly bacteria in the baby’s gut which helps to expel deadly bacteria such as GBS from their body.
- Lacto-n-difucohexose I can make the bacteria believe it as a host cell and when the bacteria attaches to the sugar, it excretes it from the body.
Thus, this sugar in the breast milk can protect babies against deadly bacterial infections such as Group B Streptococcus.
Researchers suggested that testing women for the Lewis gene during pregnancy can determine the risk of infections in their baby. Also, they recommended women to exclusively breastfeed their babies till six months of age.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
- Breastfeeding keeps babies healthy and strong
- It prevents obesity, behavioral problems and genetic disorders
- Breast milk protects babies against ear, respiratory and abdominal infections
- It wards off asthma and allergy risk in children.
- Breastfeeding is an important tool against infant mortality and sudden infant death syndrome.